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American Morning

President Obama Orders a Pause in Gitmo Trials; A Look at the Military Challenges Facing Obama; Inaugural Watchers React to Obama's Inauguration

Aired January 21, 2009 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: A minute after the hour and breaking this morning, President Obama's work is already under way as he was dancing the night away. We also found out that the new president had ordered prosecutors to put Guantanamo Bay hearings on hold for at least 120 days. It's one of his first acts as commander in chief. And it comes just hours before a scheduled hearing on the case of the confessed 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That is planned for later today.
The Dow trying to rebound today after the bank crisis pulled blue chips under 8,000. The Dow taking a hit of more than 300 points on inauguration day, of course, the worst day of the year so far.

Former President Bush returned home to cheers and a big rally in Midland, Texas, where he told well-wishers that a good man took the oath of office. The White House says that he spent his final moments as president making calls to current and former members of his inner circle, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his first White House chief of staff, Andy Card.

ROBERTS: Well, President-elect Obama is starting his second day in the Oval Office with some pressing issues to tackle. He's expected to meet with his top military commanders and economic advisers the day after he promised a new era for the nation and warned of the work ahead even while he danced the night away.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, we celebrate, but tomorrow, the work begins. And I look forward to joining you in that effort. Together, I am confident that we will write the next great chapter in America's story.


ROBERTS: Well, we have already seen one clean break with Bush policy. President Obama ordering a pause in Gitmo trials for at least 120 days. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins us now live from the North Lawn at the White House.

Suzanne, what's the big priority for the new president today?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we've seen the lights on in the residence here at the White House, also lights on at the West Wing. That's the president's office but we haven't seen anybody so far. But we do know that it's going to be a busy day for President Barack Obama.

After the national prayer service, he's going to be meeting with his top economic team. They're going to be trying to push for that (INAUDIBLE) $25 billion economic stimulus package. It is something they have to convince Congress on. It is absolutely a priority of this administration and also on the foreign policy front. They're wasting no time, as you know, taking a look at what needs to be changed first and foremost and new mission for the U.S. military, for the American people.

He's going to be meeting with his top military brass. The joint chiefs here at the White House along with General David Petraeus, to make sure that he gets the message across, that it's implemented. He wants those U.S. troops out in 16 months, and it's an ambitious plan but Barack Obama is at least at the very least taking a look at that today. And then also, we expect those executive orders, expect to see things within hours occur, John.

We're talking about the executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the detention center, to ban torture. We're talking about White House ethics reform, reversing the so-called gag rule, global gag rule, all of these things on President Barack Obama's plate -- John?

ROBERTS: Suzanne, in terms of the 16-month timetable to get the troops out of Iraq, if the generals were to say Mr. President, we think that that is a little bit ambitious. We think that maybe you should be open to pauses in the withdrawal which may extend the timetable, would he be amenable to that?

MALVEAUX: You know, essentially, John, he'd have to be. He has said before that he's going to obviously listen to his top commanders. It will be interesting to see as well just how long Secretary Gates is going to be in that position. But yes, he would have to make a decision. He would have to decide whether or not he's going to stick with that campaign pledge or he would have to amend that plan, take a second look at it.

What we do know for sure is that he is going to be moving some of those U.S. troops out of Iraq into Afghanistan because of the terrible situation that is happening there. He's made it very clear that you need more U.S. troops over in Afghanistan because things are getting worse over there.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux live for us at the White House this morning. Suzanne, thanks so much -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, Suzanne is going to be staying with us for more on this and meanwhile what the president plans to tackle during his first days in office. And we want to bring in the best political panel right now live from Washington, CNN contributor Tara Wall of the "Washington Times," as well as Democratic strategist Lisa Caputo.

Thanks to both of you for being with us this morning. Good to see you.


CHETRY: Now Lisa, you were secretary to First Lady Hillary Clinton when her husband was president and you've been through what the Obama team is currently going through right now. A lot of challenges. But take us inside the White House day one or the first full day, what goes on?

CAPUTO: Well, I'll tell you, the first thing I was reminded yesterday of just what it's like to come down from the swearing in and to walk through the front gate of the White House, and then to walk in and see on the walls every sign of the former administration gone. And I remember walking into the White House press secretary's office with then Dee Dee Myers, who was the White House press secretary and its tradition for each press secretary to leave a note for the incoming press secretary. And then you start -- it all starts. We all start getting phone calls from the White House operator of reporters looking for each of us to respond to a whole host of questions.

Dee Dee was dealing with a lot of national issues at the time. I was dealing with some of the less substantive issues, the fashion questions, but also getting a lot of questions on health care policy because it was rumored that then First Lady Hillary Clinton was going to be heavily involved in health care and other issues. And you really, really, really don't have time to do anything else but to start working, and so your computer isn't up and running but you're working and you're relying on others to get all your systems up and going.

And the president starts with the executive orders. As you've seen already, they're on his desk immediately to start rolling back what he wants to roll back from the previous administration. And then the meetings begin with the joint chiefs, as you're seeing President Obama doing today, dealing with the national security team and in this situation as well, President Obama meeting with his economic team because we're in such a financial crisis.

CHETRY: Yes. And Tara, I want to ask you a little bit about that situation as well. Gave indications in the State of the Union speech last night, speaking about the government and saying government is not necessarily the problem, as of course Ronald Reagan had famously said, but that they need to look at programs and those that aren't working need to end and those that are need to keep happening. So how is that going to be received by more conservative members in Washington?

TARA WALL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Ronald Reagan said that government was not the solution, and it certainly is not. I think one of the things that I think that stood out in what President Obama said was that the question is not whether government is too big or too small.

Well, that is a question, and it is a question that should be answered first and foremost. And government is too big and it is growing rapidly bigger. And part of I think the concerns that conservatives will have in what he is proposing and outlining when he talks about, you know, the justification of expanding government, they're going to be concerns there. You can't simply say we've done it before. Our government can handle it. The U.S. can handle it because, you know, that's just what we do.

I think there's got to be some accountability to that. And he did temper towards the end with saying that, you know, we are going to, you know, make sure we're stewards of the public's money, but you can't on one end say that you can't answer the question of whether government's too big or too small and they say we're going to be accountable.

I think conservatives will certainly hold him to account on those very economic issues because at this point, Americans still are not, I mean they know that this is a very serious situation, but at the same time, these are taxpayers' dollars we're talking about and they are not so happy about the government.

CHETRY: Right.

WALL: Once again, mishandling, mismanaging their own money for the sake of bailing out more companies, more banks, and the like.

CHETRY: Yes. A lot of challenges ahead that we saw the Dow plunge some 330 points yesterday.

And Suzanne, I want to ask you about this, because we did some reporting, you did you some reporting on the first moves that President Obama made, ordering prosecution to Gitmo suspended, and then also lifting the Bush administration's restriction on federally- funded stem cell research, as among other things. If the financial crisis is something that's taking the center stage that most people agree is the first order of business, why didn't we see an executive order or some sort of movement on that, even in a symbolic way in his first full day in office?

MALVEAUX: You know what they're trying to do, Kiran, is they're really trying to prioritize. They're trying to figure out what can we do right away. It's all about expediency.

So what are the kinds of things that we can actually put on the president's table and that he can actually sign and then it will go through and it's not going to be too much of a hassle? The second thing is what can we see that will actually percolate? What do we need to do to massage the members of Congress, and when it comes to that, the financial issues, the crisis? The economic crisis is something that the president has to work very closely with lawmakers, the Democrats as well as the Republicans. He's got to do a little arm-twisting, a little charm offensive, if you will.

It worked before and it needs to work again when it comes to this economic stimulus package. It is not something he wants to simply ram down their throats. This is something that has to be handled delicately and sensitively. They want to be a part of the process. They feel that they have not been a part of the process in working with President Bush, so they are looking for that kind of signal from Barack Obama.

So you're not going to see him try to ram that through necessarily. And there are other goals, of course, that they have to put on hold. So these are the kinds of things that he's thinking about.

CHETRY: All right and just occurred to myself there, he's possibly going to be lifting those stem cell research restrictions from the prior administration. So that still remains to be seen but there have been indications of that.

Lisa Caputo, as well as Tara Wall and Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.


ROBERTS: A slew of eyes and flash bulbs on the new president as he took the oath of office and you, our viewers helped us capture the moment by sending in your pictures. See the results just ahead.

Plus, he broke ranks with his party to throw his support behind Mr. Obama. One day after the inauguration of America's first African- American president, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell joins us live.

It's 11 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." President Barack Obama is also, of course, now commander in chief of our Armed Forces. We'll look at the military challenges now facing Mr. Obama. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us live.

And I guess he's inheriting more problems of the military sort that anybody in the past 40 years, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It sure seems like that, John. The challenge for him now is to turn those campaign promises into Oval Office decisions.


STARR (voice-over): President Barack Obama gained a second title on Tuesday, now, of course, he is also commander in chief.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Barack Obama, just by taking the oath, went from becoming a private citizen to the most powerful citizen on the planet.

STARR: By now, President Obama has been told by the military how to launch nuclear weapons. A military aide with a launch code is now never more than a few steps from his side. This command center at the U.S. northern command tracks the president's location. The military will reach him instantly in the event of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. Now, he starts each day with an intelligence briefing.

GERGEN: Somebody comes in with maps and charts and says, "Mr. President, this is what we know in the last 24 hours. This is what we've learned." STARR (on camera): As commander in chief, there is also that responsibility of making the decision to send troops into harm's way.

(voice-over): President Obama is living up to his campaign promise, telling his commanders he wants combat forces out of Iraq in 16 months.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I am commander in chief, I will set a new goal on day one. I will end this war.

STARR: Senior U.S. military officials insist they are ready to give the president their recommendations for troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the big question? Do they think a 16-month withdrawal is a good idea? And while President Obama is expected to act on another promise to close the jail at Guantanamo Bay, it could take more time than the president may have thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, could you say to the world on day one that we are closing it, as long as you give yourself six to 12 months to do so and you need to figure out some recourse for handling those 50 to 100 most dangerous people.


STARR: And of course, all eyes on that meeting later today with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General David Petraeus. What will President Obama say to them about the 16-month withdrawal, and will they offer their opinion about whether they support it? John?

ROBERTS: Looking forward to your reporting on that later on today. Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

And stay with us because we'll be getting perspective on Mr. Obama's role as commander in chief, and much more from former Joint Chiefs chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell. He'll be joining us live in just about 15 minutes' time -- Kiran.

CHETRY: John, thanks.

Well, they came to Washington in droves, lining the National Mall for two miles. There it is, the sea of people. So just how many came out to see President Barack Obama take office. One million, two million more? We'll tell you, just ahead.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." It was awfully hard to get around Washington yesterday. Just look at all of the people on the National Mall. I walked that mall myself.

Satellite imagery puts the estimate of yesterday's inaugural crowd at 1.5 million people. Take a look at these amazing images.

They were made exclusively for CNN by GeoEye (ph) Image giving us a unique perspective of just how enormous the crowd was. All those dark spots that you see there on the National Mall, those are groups of people jammed literally shoulder to shoulder.

And plenty of people simply couldn't get to the mall for the inauguration. Instead, they gathered all over the Capitol yesterday.

Here's a look at Union Station, where crowds packed the concourse to see Barack Obama's speech, watching it on CNN there. But our own Carol Costello did manage to make it into the mall or onto the mall and she was right in the thick of those 1.5 million people there. She joins us now. I'm glad to see that you got out.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did get out. Imagine, though, 1.5 million people and no serious incidents, no arrests.

ROBERTS: No arrests?

COSTELLO: It's amazing.

ROBERTS: It was really incredible.

COSTELLO: It was a giant love fest.

ROBERTS: It was.

COSTELLO: I'm telling you.

ROBERTS: It was.

COSTELLO: When Barack Obama started to speak I was right in the middle of the crowd. People were crying, they were laughing, they were cheering. Suddenly someone would just come up and hug you. It was just amazing.

It was like you're standing in the middle of these strangers and all of a sudden you had a million friends around you. That's what it felt like yesterday. Listen to how some people reacted to Barack Obama's speech.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, this is something I didn't think would come in my own lifetime and have my daughter here, who's 11 years old and my wife. It's just incredible. It just brought tears to my eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm happy to be able to tell my friends and my family and hopefully this is my boyfriend, Sharif (ph) Ward, if we have children one day, we'll be able to tell our children that we were here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and after the election, this was what I needed to see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a very historic moment and we want to be a part of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was watching history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is history. History in the making.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We integrated the schools. In my first day of school, everyone was lined up along the school driveway parking lot, and they threw stuff at us and they spit at us and they called us names.

So this day for me is a new day. It's a new me. I have new faith. I have new hope.


COSTELLO: You know, usually you have a little bit of a problem getting people to agree to be on television but not yesterday. People were begging to be on TV. They wanted their thoughts recorded. They were very much aware that history was being made, and they wanted to be a part of it in whatever way they could.

ROBERTS: It really was Barackstock, peace, love, and history. Incredible. Amazing.

COSTELLO: It really was. In fact, you know, it was freezing yesterday and I was out there for five hours. But every time someone would see me getting cold, they would surround me. They would rub my arms, offer me their gloves and it's like, please, no, you're doing me a favor by being on TV.

ROBERTS: How sweet is that? It was an amazing event. Carol, thanks so much.


ROBERTS: I hope you warmed up.

COSTELLO: I am finally.


CHETRY: And if you weren't there, you know, there were millions of people across America who are glued to their TVs across the world, in fact, yesterday as Barack Obama took office. Here's a look.


ROBERT G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: And will to the best of my ability.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And will to the best of my ability.

R.G. ROBERTS: Preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.

OBAMA: Preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.

R.G. ROBERTS: So help you God. OBAMA: So help me God.

R.G. ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.


CHETRY: There were crowds coast to coast gathering, cheering, watching history unfold in Washington. Of course, the excitement was palpable, an amazing testament to America's democracy as the world stopped to watch our peaceful transfer of power.

And CNN also broke new ground, getting you, our viewers, involved in our inauguration coverage. We teamed up with Facebook and we let you post your thoughts and interact online. We collected photos from all of you at the inauguration to make this amazing image, using special Microsoft software. It's called Photosynth.

You helped capture the moment that President Obama took the oath of office giving us this incredible 3D view from many different vantage points. You can take a closer look at what's called "The Moment" online. Go to to see this amazing image of Mr. Obama's history-making inauguration -- John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Kiran. He said that Barack Obama could be a transformational figure and cross party lines to help him become president. Coming up, we'll talk to former Secretary of State Colin Powell live.

Plus, you, our viewers, getting involved in our inauguration coverage. We'll take a look as our i-Reporters share their own experiences from inauguration day.

It's 25 minutes now after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Beautiful shot this morning from our nation's capital, and there is the look at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where a little bit later today President Obama as well as Michelle Obama, the first lady, and Vice President Biden, members of all of their families will be attending the national prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral. Gorgeous day there in Washington, D.C.

And it's day two, I guess. Actually today is the first full day, but it's down to work either way for President Obama. And he's expected to meet with top military brass as well as his economic team. He's already been talking about a clean break from President Bush's policies and backing it up by taking what could be the first step toward closing Guantanamo Bay. So is the honeymoon over already?

Joining us now from our Washington bureau, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. You know, yesterday was a historic occasion. There's no taking away from that, a huge celebration but today really is a time to get down to work. And it was something that Barack Obama also talked about. He mentioned gathering storms and you know, other foreboding language a little bit in his inaugural speech yesterday, saying that there's going to be sacrifices asked of all of us. When you look at the enormity of the challenges ahead of him, if you were advising him where do you think you should start?

WILLIE BROWN (D), FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: Well, I think he's already on tap to do it. He's, frankly, been working for the last month as if he was, in fact, the president. He's put together an incredible team. They've been approved by Congress appropriately in particular by the U.S. Senate. And I suspect that the first thing he is going to do is address the issue of how do you get people back to work, by getting the package passed, so that, in fact, infrastructure work can begin in this country.

CHETRY: He talked a little bit about putting partisanship aside, and not acting childish. You know, there were a lot of things about the Bush administration that especially for Democrats and more left- leaning people that was very upsetting.

I mean, Guantanamo Bay, of course, became sort of the symbol of what was wrong with many people disenfranchised. That's one thing that he did. He ordered the suspension of prosecutions there. He's also expected to order the repeal of an abortion aid policy. This is U.S. dollars going to fund international organizations.

These things don't seem to be addressing, of course, the biggest elephant in the room, which is the economy. What is the symbolism and what is the reasoning behind making those the headlining first executive acts, if you will?

BROWN: I think those are all things that were done primarily by the Bush administration not through the approval of Congress, nor in any discussions with Congress. And I think what Mr. Obama intends to do is say, let's remove all of those executive orders. Let's remove all of those unilateral actions. And if we are to do --

WILLIE BROWN, FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: ... the approval of Congress, nor in any discussions with Congress, and I think what Mr. Obama intends to do is say, let's remove all of those executive orders. Let's remove all of those unilateral actions, and if we are to do anything, we ought to do it together. So I'm going to submit to you, members of Congress, any of the kinds of things that I'd like to see stay in place, and I want your cooperation to achieve it. He's proved clearly that he can do that, when he went to them with the idea of doing something about the stimulus package, asking them to sign on and even those who had pledged, particularly with reference to the auto industry, they in fact, said, yes, we will, because it was Barack Obama. His speech sets the ground and the foundation for that kind of cooperation. KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, your home state of California is experiencing a massive financial crisis right now. I believe you guys were facing a $42 billion budget surplus over this year and next. Governor Schwarzenegger talking about the state facing insolvency problems of budget shortfall and there's talk about hiking taxes, slashing programs, making sacrifices.

Barack Obama also talked about in his inauguration speech the notion of having to sacrifice, having to feel some of the pain because of what's been going on. Do you think we're going to see this on a national level?

BROWN: I do believe that California is just simply the symbol of what will happen in all of the states, and I think the federal government, President Barack Obama, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will have discussions, and I suspect that there will be some indication just how committed the federal government will be to assist in state and local governments by using California as the example.

CHETRY: All right. Well, Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and author of "Basic Brown, My Life and Our Times." Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

BROWN: Thank you.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Thirty-two minutes now after the hour. He is one of the most respected military leaders of a generation, and he crossed party lines to endorse President Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Joining us now is former secretary of state General Colin Powell. General, it's great to see you.

GEN. COLIN POWELL, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning, John. How are you?

ROBERTS: Thanks for dropping by today.

POWELL: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: It's been a long time. I've been hammering on you to come on the program ever since -

POWELL: This checks the box.


ROBERTS: Thank you. I attended that dinner that you and Bill Gates had. I think it was back in May...

POWELL: Back in May.

ROBERTS: ... of last year. And I recall during that dinner the big point that you were making about whomever becomes the next president -- it was very unclear at that point who was even going to be the Democratic nominee -- you said, I hope the next president will resist the urge to get drawn into the crisis du jour and instead take some time to look back and really get a sense for where he or she wants to take America, with a particular eye toward global prosperity, wealth creation.


ROBERTS: So Barack Obama has got two wars on his plate, Iraq and Afghanistan. He's got a terrible economy. He's got withering job prospects for so many Americans, unemployment rolls growing by the day.

Can he really avoid getting caught up in the latest crisis?


ROBERTS: (INAUDIBLE) what you hope he can do?

POWELL: You can never avoid it. Once you're the president, every crisis comes to your desk, and you have to deal with it, and there's no way to avoid that. But that doesn't mean that you can't stand back and look further out.

In President Bush's administration, we did that. I mean, we increased the amount of foreign assistance we were giving to the rest of the world. That took time. While we were worrying about Iraq and Afghanistan, we also put in place the largest HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment program the world has ever seen. That took time, working with Congress. So you have to be able to do both.

And I think it was Mr. Obama during the economic crisis earlier last year, in the fall, who said, you got to be able to do more than one thing at a time. And some of those things are crises of the moment, and other things have to be long-range planning -- where are we taking? And to go back to the reason we had the dinner that night, poverty alleviation is one of the most important challenges facing the world.

For those of us who are wealthy, we should reach out, not only to our own citizens who need help, but to the rest of the world. If you want to get rid of sources of terrorism, if you want to get people moving in the right direction, you got to help them get jobs, clean water, health care for their kids, educate their kids. And America has a great responsibility to do this.

ROBERTS: So he has a moment right now. He has the ears of the nation. He has the ears of the world. Republicans are even willing to give him an opportunity here. There have been many moments in the past that other presidents have had, and some of them have been squandered. How does he make sure he doesn't squander this moment?

POWELL: I think he is off to a good start by the way in which he has reached out in a bipartisan way. I was honored at a dinner the another night, but the one who was really honored that night at another dinner -- there were three dinners -- was John McCain. And President-elect Obama reached out to his opponent.

I mean, they went after each other in the campaign. That's what you're supposed to do. And he reached out to him and said, I want to have a dinner in your honor. I thought that was a very gracious move. Just as gracious was John McCain saying yes. And these two men are now working together. Now, I don't like to take this bipartisanship thing too far, because we're supposed to be a partisan country. That's the way the Founding Fathers intended for us to move forward.

People have strong views on both sides of an issue, argue it out, fight it out, just as they did in that summer of 1787 when they were writing the Constitution. And then ultimately, both sides make compromises in order to gain consensus, and then you move the country forward.

I think in recent years, we have been so partisan and so ideologic on the extremes that we have not been able to come together and make the right kinds of compromises to gain a consensus as to where the country should be going. I think President Obama understands this perfectly, and I think we'll be working hard to get both sides together, make compromises, and let's see if we cannot move forward in a bipartisan way.

ROBERTS: Yes, politics became a zero-sum game some years ago.

POWELL: I win, you lose. That's all there is to it. But that's not what the Founding Fathers had in mind, and that's not what makes a democracy work.

ROBERTS: Right. Hey, we're going to have much more live with General Powell live after the break here from D.C., If you can stay with us for just a few more minutes. We've got a lot more to talk about. Thirty-six minutes now after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. At 39 minutes after the hour, we're back now with General Colin Powell. Yesterday during his inaugural address, President -- it's interesting to call him President as opposed to President-elect or the nominee or whatever -- President Barack Obama said that there were big ambitions for his presidency. Let's listen to how he put it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done.


ROBERTS: He wants to do an awful lot, but is it possible to get done all that he wants to get done, particularly in this environment?

POWELL: A president has to come in with big ambitions. He was elected to have big ambitions and deal with the big problems that the country has. But at the same time, no president can escape the crisis that comes in every morning over the ongoing conflict that exists. I think his number one problem, notwithstanding Iraq and Afghanistan, which are important, is the economy. The American people I think fundamentally bet on President Obama because of the economic situation that we are in. The stock market dropped another 300 points on his glorious inauguration day, and people are losing jobs, and that's number one for him. And that will take big ambition, as well as gut (ph) work -- you know, the scut (ph) work to get this thing fixed.

And so, a president has to organize himself and organize his administration and organize his mind to deal with the crises of the day, but not get so consumed by them that you cannot think about big things.

ROBERTS: One of the big tasks that he has is to repair America's image in the world. And I wanted to ask you, now that President Bush has, you know, ridden into the sunset, so to speak, how much did the Bush administration, in your estimation, damage America's reputation in the world?

POWELL: Iraq and the Guantanamo situation, which I had been preaching for years, should have been closed years ago. Abu Ghraib and lack of progress in the Middle East, and a certain way in which we dealt with the world on international issues, I think damaged our reputation in the world. And you can measure that by popularity standings if you ask people what they think about America.

But I think it's very recoverable because as I went around the world, people would argue with me about some of these policies. But when the arguments were through, they would say something like, how do I get a green card, you know.

ROBERTS: Still wanted to come.

POWELL: Yes. In front of every embassy, every consular office we have, during this whole eight-year period, there were people lined up. Just go to any city in America, walk up the streets of New York, walk the streets of Washington, look at the crowd that was here yesterday, this diverse crowd, many of whom just got to this country within the last ten years. So, that is still there.

And Is think the way in which President Obama has reached out and his background, and the fact that he's an African-American, I think has already started to turn around this image that we have had in recent years. And if we start to solve these problems -- the economy starts coming back, if Iraq is in a better place, we start to do things in Afghanistan, we get engaged with the Middle East -- I think that's recoverable. Because there's still a solid, residual level of affection and respect for the United States of America.

ROBERTS: I want to take a short break here, General, if we could, and we'll be back with more.


ROBERTS: Stay with us. Much more from General Colin Powell from Washington right after the break. It's 42 minutes after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Forty-five minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We resume our conversation now with General Colin Powell. Yesterday in an interview, you said that if Martin Luther King were alive to witness Barack Obama inaugurated as the 44th president, he would say, "That's great, but we've still got work to do."

POWELL: He sure would.

ROBERTS: What work?

POWELL: Martin Luther King, if he were still alive, would be overjoyed. He would have been sitting right up there behind President Obama. But then he would, as I kiddingly said, he would then pull on his coat, "I need to come see you tomorrow." Because he would want to talk to the president about lingering poverty in our country. He would want to talk about the fact that 50 percent of our minority kids are not finishing high school.

Great, we have a black president, but 50 percent of our black kids are not getting through high school. What's that all about? He would want to talk about the poverty in the rest of the world. He would want to talk about social justice, the things he talked about throughout his short career.

I mean, he went from Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 as a Baptist preacher in a small church to a Nobel laureate nine years later. And then, let's see, four years later or three years later we lost him. But he never stepped away from the need to struggle for justice, and war, to fight poverty, and to make sure that all of our citizens benefit from blessings that our Founding Fathers and our country has provided to us.

ROBERTS: Do you think that this country can ever move beyond race? You know, yesterday, John Lewis, the great civil rights leader, congressman for many, many years thinks it's a good downpayment on Martin Luther King's dream.

POWELL: Yes. We are slowly moving beyond race. I mean, I have to remind youngsters who think that I sort of just dropped in one day and became Secretary of State or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a lot of people went before me that worked just as hard, were just as good, and had no opportunity. They would not have been promoted because of their color.

And so, we've changed a great deal over the last 50 years. We've gone from a time when blacks were second-class citizens in our own country to where we have corporate chiefs, we have military and political leaders, and now a president. Enormous progress.

ROBERTS: And in terms of the president, you said, I knew this day would come. A lot of people thought that that day might come in 1996, when you toyed with the idea of running for president, but you didn't.


ROBERTS: And you resisted for personal reasons. And you said your dear wife, Alma, had asked you not to do it. Now that we have elected our first president who is African-American, can you tell us, I think for the first time, why you didn't run? What were those concerns?

POWELL: Because I did not want to. Because I'm basically a soldier and because I never found inside of me the kind of internal passion that you got to have to run for elected office.

ROBERTS: And what were your wife's concerns?

POWELL: I never woke up -- she was concerned as well it would change our family life, and she was concerned to some extent about our safety, but I'm a soldier, and that wasn't my concern. My concern was I never woke up a single morning to go think about this or talk to people about it, and find in my heart and soul the passion that a Barack Obama or a John McCain or a George Bush or a Bill Clinton has. And it just wasn't me. And you know, you've got to be true to yourself, John, and I've always tried to be true to myself.

ROBERTS: A lot of people think you would have been a great president.

POWELL: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: General Powell, it's great to talk to you.

POWELL: Good to see you.

ROBERTS: Thanks for coming in. We'll see you another year from now.



CHETRY: Well, Michelle Obama's first full day as First Lady. She said that her first priority is to be mommy-in-chief. But what else can we expect from her in her new role as first lady.

Also the best of the inaugural ball. Beyonce, the Obamas, every A- list celebrity practically in the country. The morning after report from our own Lola Ogunnaike who was there, coming up.



OBAMA: First of all, how good looking is my wife?


CHETRY: She certainly was beautiful last night. The First Lady of fashion, Michelle Obama was party hopping with President Barack Obama, serenaded by some A-list celebrities along the way and our Lola Ogunnaike joins us now from Washington. First of all, we did a lot of talking before all of this about what she was going to wear? Who she was going to wear? What did you think of her gown last night?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I thought it was a hit, Kiran. I really loved it. I thought she looked like a lovely snowflake. It was designed by Jason Wu, who is only 26 years old. Can you imagine scoring that big of a career-maker at such an early age? I thought also the most poignant moment of the evening was when Barack Obama and -- President Barack Obama and his wife had their first dance. And they were serenaded by Beyonce Knowles who did her rendition off Etta James' classic "At Last."



At last my love has come along. My lonely places are over.


OGUNNAIKE: Kiran, I though that was such a special moment. I also loved what she wore earlier in the day, which was Isabel Toledo. It was a beautiful, beautiful gold number. I thought that also was a hit. Again, she was taking risks. People thought that she might play it safe and go with either Maria Pinto who she's worn several times before. Or maybe someone like Oscar de la Renta, but she took a risk on young designers, fashion insiders love and I think two hits, two hits for her.

CHETRY: There you go. Yes, I mean, a lot of people here loved the white ball gown for sure. Mixed reaction on the gold - you called it gold. Some people here have called it lemongrass of the daytime ensemble.

OGUNNAIKE: Oh, no, I loved the gold, and I thought it looked very chic with the short little gloves. I thought she hit it right. I thought it was very, very nice. I loved the little ribbon tie and the jeweled collar. Understated but very chic and very classic. I think fashion insiders will love it. And I think most people thought she did well.

CHETRY: Yes, well, I mean, no doubt. And, boy, the eyes of the world are on you. Talking about pressure. But you guys, not only that, but just having to be up and about and you know fresh for all of those parties, I mean, they hit up 10 balls. They were out until 2:30 in the morning. You were there as well. What was the vibe like out on the town in some of those places?

OGUNNAIKE: The vibe was incredible, Kiran. I mean, people had enough energy. They were passionate. They were invigorated. The town was euphoric, I hit up a few parties and I talked to a lot of celebrities. There were a lot of people out last night partying and they were having the time of their lives. Anne Hathaway is one of the people that I spoke with. Here is what she has to say.


OGUNNAIKE: What was the highlight of the day for you?

ANNE HATHAWAY, ACTRESS: When I was here with my dad, still getting to share this historic moment with someone I loved so much, was amazing.

OGUNNAIKE: When that family walked out on stage, what went through your mind?

ALFRE WOODARD: Paradigm shift, you know? Paradigm shift. Yes. My little ragamuffin 15-year-old boy, you know, all the ladies may not pull their purses closed when they see him because they might say, you know what, that could have been Obama.

SAMUEL JACKSON, ACTOR: I'm not going to change any policies. I'm not going to do anything. I'm going to go back to work now and pay more taxes.

OGUINNAKE: But if he makes you Secretary of cool -

JACKSON: That's not him.


OGUNNAIKE: So, that's not happening, Kiran, for Samuel L. Jackson, but I think he's got a day job that he's OK with.

CHETRY: He got a little dig in there saying he's going to pay more taxes. My only claim to fame because John and my hours were quite early. But at the CNN trailer at the inauguration, Denzel Washington was there and we had a wonderful talk with him, true gentleman, and so that was exciting.

OGUNNAIKE: Lucky you. What did he look like up close?

CHETRY: He looked great. He was keeping warm. He had his little knit hat on and he was just - he was exhilarated to say the least. He was very happy. But anyway, you had a lot of fun and thanks for bringing us some of the sound from the celebrities. It was nice to hear. Lola, take care.



CHETRY (voice-over): Dancing, screaming, and beaming. A mass of flags and jubilation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am so proud and so happy of this country.

CHETRY: The emotion of the moment as Obama made history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This man can bring us together.

CHETRY: The best of what CNN captured in the crowds. You're watching the most news in the morning. (END VIDEOTAPE)



FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA, UNITED STATES: We need every American to serve their community, including our young people. And whether that's volunteering at a homeless shelter, whether it's visiting an elderly person, whether it's picking up trash, whether it's writing letters to our troops, we can all do something special.


CHETRY: Well, this morning First Lady Michelle Obama is waking up with the power to not only influence the nation's fashion, but its charitable causes. And also the hints of her agenda have already begun to emerge. Nia-Malika Henderson is the White House reporter for politico and she joins us now. Nia, thanks for being with us this morning.

You know, it's -


CHETRY: It's also interesting to sort of follow that transformation. I mean she was a little bit reluctant on this. she initially she didn't want her husband to run for president. And then she said, OK. Here's the deal you can run if you give up smoking. But she seems to now have really embraced the national stage. She looked quite comfortable yesterday.

HENDERSON: Yes, she did. She looked really comfortable yesterday. And as you said she was a little reluctant at first. But you know, let's remember, Eleanor Roosevelt was also a very reluctant First Lady and we can all, you know, kind of remember what she did in terms of really kind of modernizing look in really kind of bringing attention to lots of different causes and, you know, the underprivileged and black folks and kind of getting them on board with our - FDR's agenda. And I think we're seeing the same thing, hints of that from Michelle Obama as well.

CHETRY: You know, you talked about Eleanor Roosevelt, I heard yesterday a lot of people making those types of comparisons already. A lot of excitement and expectation but expectations for Michelle Obama who famously said you know first and foremost "I'm going to be mommy-in-chief." How does her role evolve? And who is she looking to when she decides exactly what she's going to try to tackle?

HENDERSON: Yes, well we know who she's kind of not looking to in terms of a role model. You know, Hillary Rodham Clinton was a first lady who kind of ruffled some feathers early on. It looks like Michelle Obama won't follow that role in terms of kind of getting publicly involved in policy, but from what we've seen so far, I mean, if you look at the White House website this morning, for instance, her bio is already up.

And it talks about some of the causes she's interested in. One of which is volunteerism. The other is military families and also kind of looking at work/life family issues which we can, you know, kind of hear her talking about, when she says first and foremost she's going to be mommy in chief.

CHETRY: Right. Those were the things that every day women tackle every single day around this country. You're right. And this is also interesting because in the article that you wrote for Politico, you talked about the unique position that Michelle Obama finds herself in as an African-American and you write that Michelle Obama is like no other famous black woman who came before her. She's not a single workaholic like Condoleezza Rice. She's not from the entertainment world like Beyonce. She's famous but in an entirely different way than say Oprah.

And a lot of people have said she was certainly a successful role model in her own right -


CHETRY: Before she became part of the national stage. So, where does that leave her and her role as a mentor to others?

HENDERSON: Yes, I think she is going to be kind of a distant mentor and role model. Kind of an uber role model for many different women, especially black women. I mean, you hear from black women that, you know, that she really is going to disrupt a lot of stereotypes the kind of dominant culture that has about black women.

You know, that they're angry that they're single, that they work too much, that they're strong. And so they really kind of see her as kind of widening the ideas that, you know, kind of dominant culture has about black women. And certainly looking to her also, you know, in a kind of lighter way, you know, for fashion tips as well.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: You know, that they're angry, that they're single, that they work too much, that they're strong. And so they really kind of see her as kind of widening the ideas that, you know, kind of dominant culture has about black women. And certainly looking to her also, you know, in a kind of lighter way, you know, for fashion tips as well.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I know. And a lot of people giving rave reviews for her first major choice yesterday of inauguration day. She also is the first...


CHETRY: ...African-American First Lady, also the first one, of course, as the descendant of slaves.


CHETRY: And even Valerie Jarrett within Obama's own administration said, yes, she understands that there is this extra burden that she is going to be watched by fellow African-American. So, how does she step into that role and what does she do?

HENDERSON: Well, I think she steps into it, you know, with, you know, kind of -- I mean, Michelle Obama is very much a pragmatist. And she is, you know, going to kind of step into the role fully kind of knowing what the expectations are, but she's also going to kind of craft what she wants to do, and also kind of look at what the country needs. I mean, that's what you kind of hear about first ladies. They come in. They kind of have to read the time and also kind of look at what their husband need, but also what the country needs and obviously hear what those little girl needs. So, I think she -- you know, she's been in a position where she's been a prominent -- a prominent person in Chicago, for instance, but her stage is certainly larger now.

CHETRY: And the best part about it is if all goes wrong, she has her mother there as well for a little extra support. She's lucky that way.

HENDERSON: Exactly, yes.

CHETRY: Nia-Malika Henderson, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

HENDERSON: Good to be here.